Samhain: The origins of Halloween & Galician Queimada

Halloween may be big business in America and some may even dislike that these traditions have crossed over to Europe but the reality is actually the other way around. Halloween is a Celtic tradition that was brought over to America by Irish immigrants. The original celebration is known as Samhain (pronounced sah-win) and marks the end of the harvest period and the beginning of winter. On this night the portal between life and death is opened and our passed away loved ones are allowed to return.

Galicia has always has a deep connection with the Celts and is also known as Fogar de Breogan (Home of Breogan). Breogan was a Celtic King of Galicia and ancestor of the Gaels mentioned in the Irish Lebor Gabála Érren (The Book of the Taking of Ireland), a set of medieval manuscripts about the History of Ireland. It is therefore not surprising that Samhain, a Celtic celebration, has always been part of Galicia. I remember my dad (from A Coruña, Galicia) telling me how people used to hollow out and carve turnips and hide in corredoiras (narrow country lanes) and scare passersby with them. If you are used to American Halloween, the use use of turnips may seem like an odd choice (they are also extremely hard to hollow out and carve) but originally that’s what was used back in Europe. The only reason pumpkins became synonymous to Halloween is because the Irish didn’t have easy access to turnips (remember turnips are native to Europe and didn’t exist in America until the Columbine Exchange); they did however have pumpkins which are native to the North America. Samaín in Galicia seemed to lose popularity until quite recently until there was a revival which, ironically, was most probably fuelled by the commercialisation of American Halloween spreading into Spain and also reconnecting with Galicia’s Celtic past.

(Pic 1. Statue of Breogan in front of Torre de Hercules thought to be the same as that mentioned in the Lebor Gábala Érren. Pic 2. Traditional Galician bagpipes known as Gaita)

When Catholicism came to the Iberian Peninsula (and Europe) there was some sort of religious symbiosis where ancient pagan traditions were kept but their meaning changed to suit Catholicism, basically the same thing that happened with Christmas. Allhallowtide (All Saints’ Day & All Souls’ Day) was created around this day (in Orthodox Christianity it is celebrated on a different day) to take over the original celebration. The name Halloween actually comes from All Hallows’ Eve and is the eve before All Saints’ Day. Allhallowtide is in essence the same as Samhain but it has been replaced with Catholic elements.

There has been a revival of Samaín throughout Galicia but it has always been deeply rooted especially in A Coruña, Cedeira (Province of A Coruña), Narón (Province of A Coruña), Ferrol (Province of A Coruña),  Quiroga (Province of Lugo) and Ribadavia (Province of Ourense). In Ribadavia it is also called Noite Meiga (Meiga Night – meiga is a traditional Galician being similar to a witch. Meigas are always evil but witches known as bruxas can be good or evil). This night is celebrated with a parade, a Haunted Castle Attraction, Witches Sabbath and a Queimada.

A Queimada is a traditional Galician alcoholic beverage made with Augardente (Firewater, similar to Italian Grappa) which is set alight in a traditional earthenware vessel know as pote in Galician. The drink itself has existed since time immemorial (some even believe it to be Celtic) but the show that is put on nowadays is more of a modern invention where a poem in the Galician language was created to recreate something a witch would recite while conjuring a potion in her cauldron. People gather around, lights are switched off so you can see the flames burning the alcohol and people recite a poem (see below, translation provided). It’s a fun event which is used in many Galicians parties and restaurants but most significantly during Samaín and The Bonfires of Saint John the Baptist (San Xoan) marking the beginning of summer (most probably another pagan tradition disguised as Christian lol). Even though the alcohol is burned, it is a very potent drink and people tend to drink it in little cups the size of espresso cups. If you have any left you can bottle it up and use for shots; it’s also good cold.

Conxuro da Queimada (Queimada Spell)

Mouchos, coruxas, sapos e bruxas. Owls, barn owls, toads and witches.
Demos, trasgos e diaños, Demons, goblins and devils,
Espíritos das nevoadas veigas. Spirits of the misty meadows.
   
Corvos, píntigas e meigas, Crows, salamanders and meigas,
Feitizos das manciñeiras. Folk healer’s charms.
Podres cañotas furadas, Rotten pierced canes,
Fogar dos vermes e alimañas. Home of worms and vermin.
Lume das Santas Compañas, Light of the Santa Compaña,
Mal de ollo, negros meigallos, Evil eye, black magic,
Cheiros dos mortos, tronos e raios. Stench of the dead, thunder and lightening.
   
Oubeo de can, pregón da morte; Howl of the dog, omen of death;
Fuciño do sátiro e pé do Coello. Satyr’s snout and rabbit’s foot.
Pecadora lingua de mala muller The cursed tongue of an evil woman
Casado cun home vello. Married to an old man.
   
Averno de Satán e Belcebú, Inferno of Satan and Beelzebub,
Lumes dos cadavers ardentes, Flames of burning corpses,
Peidos dos infernales cús, Farts from hellish asses,
Muxido de mar embravecida. Bellow of the enraged seas.
Barriga inútil da muller solteira, Useless womb of single women,
Falar dos gatos que andan á xaneira, Caterwauling of cats on heat,
Guedella porca da cabra mal parida. Dirty hide of a badly born goat.
   
Con este fol levantarei, With this ladle I will raise,
As chamas deste lume, The flames of this fire,
Que asemella ao do Inferno, Resembling those in hell,
E fuxirán as bruxas, And witches will flee,
A cabalo das súas escobas, Straddling their brooms,
Índose bañar na praia das areas gordas. To bathe in beaches of thick sand.
   
Oíde, oíde! os ruxidos, Hear ye, hear ye, the roars,
Que dan as que non poden, Of those who cannot,
Deixar de queimarse no augardente, Escape from the burning flames of this firewater,
Quedando así purificadas. And thus, becoming purified.
E cando este brebaxe, When this concoction,
Baixe polas nosas gorxas, Slithers down our throats,
Quedaremos libres dos males, We shall be freed from all evil,
Da nosa ialma e todo embruxamento. Our soul and all enchantment.
   
Forzas do ar, terra, mar e lume, Forces of air, earth, sea and fire,
A vós fago esta chamada: I invoke thee:
Si é verdade que tendes máis poder, If it is true that you are more powerful,
Que a humana xente, Than mere mortals,
Eiquí e agora, facede cós espiritos, Here and now, force the spirits,
Dos amigos que están fora, Of our friends who are no longer with us,
Participen con nós desta Queimada. To participate with us in this Queimada.

Traditionally the drink is made in an earthenware pot and ladle and served in earthenware little cups. Most non-Galicians won’t have one of these pots but it is possible to make it in a large saucepan and use a metal ladle; it won’t be as visually impressive but it will suit just fine.

queimada-1

Ingredients

1 litre bottle Augardente/Aguardiente (or Italian Grappa)

Peel of one lemon

4 Tbsp white sugar

A few coffee beans (optional)

Method

1  Put all ingredients into the earthenware pot or a saucepan.

2 Fill the ladle with aguardiente and some extra sugar and set alight. Once you see that it is on fire (patience is needed) move the ladle to the top of the alcohol in the pot and set it all on fire. Once it is fully alight, you can then submerge the ladle and stir gently to dissolve the sugar.

queimada-1-step

At this point, the lights are switched off and the conxuro (spell) is read aloud. Once all the sugar has dissolved you can either leave it until all the alcohol burns off or just blow it out; it depends on how strong or weak you want the alcohol.

queimada-2nd-step

The best part of the queimada is the theatre that is involved in switching off the lights and reciting the conxuro (spell). If you want to see this in action look here:

 

Feliz Samaín! Oíche Shamhna shona daoibh! Happy Samhain!

trisquel-celta

 


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This post is part of the monthly link up party Our Growing Edge. This event aims to connect food bloggers and inspire us to try new things. This month is hosted by Annika at We Must Be Dreamers and the theme is HALLOWEEN.


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